The UK’s housing crisis is at the top of the news a lot these days, and rightly so. Home ownership has plummeted in recent years, rents have skyrocketed, and there are simply not enough new houses being built. As property has become a lucrative investment, we are seeing more and more landlords like Pemberstone, booting families out and “redeveloping” to increase the value of their assets – too often at the cost of poorer people.
But, as well as the economic costs that households have to absorb in these situations, there is the hidden cost of mental health, too.
It seems like stating the obvious that this eviction threat has created chronic anxiety in our Oulton estate. But what does that actually mean, day to day? It has manifested itself differently for different people here and, while it’s a difficult subject to speak about given its deeply personal nature, it must be acknowledged as a fall out from Pemberstone’s redevelopment plans.
Firstly, many on the estate are feeling a form of constant, unrelenting unease and stress. This is hitting children, the elderly, and residents with dependents the hardest. Neighbours have reported that their children are struggling to sleep, as they feel powerless in the face of something they don’t understand. For them, it’s not just seeing a worried mum or dad that makes them upset, it’s the potential of changing schools, losing friends and changing what they’ve known their whole life.
Others have reported that the stress is worsening existing health conditions, both physical and mental. One of our neighbours, who has lived on the estate his whole life, and who currently cares for his elderly parents, says that he has previously experienced poor mental health, and the eviction threat is once again pushing him to the edge: he is more angry, more upset, and drinking more, because he doesn’t know how else to cope with this relentless anxiety. Another neighbour feels that the constant sense of unease and fear is worsening her chronic back condition, which is contributing to more sleepless nights, difficult days in the office, and a tearfulness that the slightest thing can provoke.
The eviction threat is putting strains on family relations and friendships, as everyone’s concerns rebound off each other, creating an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. Problems that might previously have been shared (and halved) among close relatives, become secrets, hidden to shield them from the additional burden. In one family, a son kept his redundancy secret from his parents for fear of adding to their woes, just hoping that he could find a job in the meantime. He couldn’t.
There is also that constant guilt that many feel about not doing enough for the campaign. Refreshing the campaign Facebook page, sending more Tweets, writing more emails, trying to get more news coverage. They always feel switched on, thinking :”what if that one more makes all the difference – how can I turn off my computer now?” It is eating away at family time, and means that residents never have a moment of peace.
Anxiety, stress, tearfulness, sleeplessness, anger, secrets, guilt. Suffering doesn’t start at the moment of eviction. For the residents of Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close it began the moment the pamphlet dropped through the letterbox last September.